Big companies are like battleships going down the middle of a gulf. When we fire our guns they’re pretty loud, but we don’t change direction very well.
It’s the size of our dissemination, probably, that gives us power. But we need everybody else around bumping into us on the sides, shooting their guns at us, pushing us left, pushing us right, and I don’t mean in a political way. I mean trying to give us the right direction, trying to point us in the right direction so we cover stories that we do miss, and we miss a lot of them. But it’s [having a broad] landscape of journalists that seems to me very important and to some degree under threat.
I would say the other…concern, and my colleague Jonathan Alter has written about this…is that like entertainment, news is being covered in a greater degree these days as blockbusters.… Movies come out and they have one big weekend and they’re in 500 million theaters and you’d better go see it and then it’s gone. The same thing is happening with news. You see several stories covered in massive amounts by everybody and a lot of little stories that used to sneak in there on network broadcasts and elsewhere, and in the newspapers, getting pushed out. It’s a desire to capture the audience and the audience’s attention with these blockbuster stories, and there certainly is an audience for them. But I think some of the smaller, some of the more difficult stories are being pushed out for that. That’s why, again, we need as broad a landscape of journalists as possible….
I don’t think we have to necessarily feel guilty about the fact that we want an audience and we want to serve the audience….
There was lots of coverage of Bosnia…and the fact of the matter is the audience did not show any true interest in the Bosnia story. They were force-fed that story. There were specials. We did a series on the nightly news, for instance, and lots of guys did lots more than we did. I don’t think that it’s stupid to take notice of that fact that if we’re trying to serve our audience, the people who are loyal to us, the people who turn to us, and they’re giving us a message that this story is not all that important to them, to pay some attention to that. I don’t think we should be embarrassed by that. That isn’t to say that we don’t over-cover certain stories…because it’s easier to do it and it’s safer to do it. But I don’t want to practice journalism in an empty church. I don’t think that’s the idea of journalism. The idea of journalism is to circulate stories and ideas. We’re not writing history. That’s a different assignment. Our assignment is to talk to people.
These remarks are edited from a public forum sponsored by the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication on March 4, 1998. David Corvo is Vice President of NBC News.